Rita Tejada

Associate professor of Spanish

First year teaching at Luther: 1996

Home city: Santiago, Dominican Republic.

The big events in Rita's life tend to come in pairs. For starters, her daughters are a year apart. And in Spring 2006, she published both her master's thesis, Mujeres, Eros y Tanatos en El Romancero Dominicano, ("Women, Eros, and Thanatos in the Dominican Romancero") and her doctoral dissertation, Pesimismo en Tres Novelas Dominicanas de La Posguerra, ("Pessimism in Three Dominican Novels of the Postwar Period").

Written and published in Spanish, both books earned critical acclaim in the United States, and, more importantly for Rita, in the Dominican Republic (DR). In 2007, "Mujeres, Eros y Tanatos en el Romancero Dominicano" was awarded the Dominican Republic Ministry of Culture National Award.

"I want to contribute to Dominican literature and criticism," Rita says. "My country has given me so much--I just hope to give back. When she can, Rita donates books to libraries and other public institutions in the DR. "It's a little sad that the price of a book is beyond most people's means."

Rita came to the States in 1991 as a graduate student with a Fulbright scholarship. En route to a doctorate, she and her now-former husband, Luther jazz professor Juan Tony Guzman, began finding ways to incorporate Dominican culture into their life in the Midwest.

"Dominicans take time for people, for family," Rita explains. "The fragile economics of the country make people want to take care of each other. I once locked my car keys in my apartment in Santiago, and when I asked the neighbors if I could use their phone to call my brother, I spent three hours with them. Whatever the reason, you sit down, you eat, you talk with people. By the time my brother came with my spare keys, I didn't need to go out anymore."

Rita's favorite classes include the January Term trips she leads to the DR, exploring the rich complexity of her people-oriented culture, as well as the darker issues of poverty, child labor, and violence against women. "We go to see how other people live," she says, "and in the process, we learn to appreciate what we have."

To encourage cross-culturalism here in Decorah, Rita speaks only Spanish with her daughters at home and works to establish a Spanish language program in local elementary schools. "A second language only improves children's assets," Rita says. "They're inescapably part of a global community."

Rita also travels to the DR with her daughters at least once a year, and teaches and advises graduate students at her alma mater, Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra in Santiago.

Last year, in keeping with her habit of doubling success, Rita saw two of her essays on Dominican national identity published on www.cielonaranja.com, an anthology of Dominican writing and philosophy.

"These are the thinkers, the visionaries in my country," she says of the website. "I'm honored to be among them."